AMU controversy

Separate staircases for girls, partitioned classrooms: gender segregation is not new on Indian campuses

While Aligarh Muslim University does not have a blanket ban on women in its main library, other Indian colleges are busy preventing boys and girls from talking to each other.

This week, you probably joined in the outrage expressed over Aligarh Muslim University’s rules that bar undergraduate students from the Women’s College campus from using the Maulana Azad Library on the institute’s main campus.

But by the standards of Indian educational institutions, AMU’s case is hardly surprising. Across the country, there are campuses that enforce gender segregation in far more bizarre ways, compelling students to live with outrageous concepts such as separate staircases for women and banning conversations between boys and girls.

Ever since the AMU controversy erupted on Monday, the story has been all over the media: students from the Women’s College, situated 3 kms away from the main campus, repeated their long-standing demand to be allowed access to the main library, and while turning down their demand, vice chancellor Zameeruddin Shah reportedly said that the presence of the girls would draw “four times more boys” in the library.

His remark immediately came under fire from the media, social media, activists and the central government, with HRD minister Smriti Irani calling it an “insult to daughters”.

In response to the backlash, many AMU students came out in defence of their university. They clarified that the Maulana Azad Library actually has hundreds of female members from the main campus, and access is only denied to students of the Women’s College, which has its own (smaller) library. Other students expressed the fear – shared widely on the AMU campus – that Islamophobic elements would give the controversy an anti-Muslim spin.

But AMU is not alone when it comes to gender segregation in colleges. Here are some other Indian institutes that need an as much of an attitude check as the Aligarh university’s vice chancellor.

Separate staircases: St Xavier’s College, Ranchi

After the Delhi gang rape of December 2012, St Xavier’s College, Ranchi, the city's most prestigious autonomous college concluded that the best way to keep its female students safe was by cutting off as many opportunities of interaction between sexes as possible. So the college introduced a separate stairway for women students and installed a partition to divide its 100-seater reading room into two, one for each gender. Predictably, students responded by shunning the reading room altogether.

Divisions in classrooms: MES College, Bangalore

This is one of the many Indian institutes that believes in segregating staircases for men and women, but it is also reported to have divisions in classrooms for male and female students to sit separately. Students are also said to have received oral instructions not to “mingle too much” with the opposite sex, to “maintain distance” and not share food.

No Talking: Sathyabama Engineering College, Chennai

It may be a reputed technical institute in Chennai, but Sathyabama has also earned a reputation for being one of the many Tamil Nadu colleges that don’t allow male and female students to talk to each other. In a poster shared on a student blog, the long-standing rule is explained in detail: “Both the boys and girls should not talk to each other anywhere in the campus or in the University buses. Anybody violating this will be punished and both the parents will be intimated about this…books and study materials should not be exchanged between boys and girls.”

Only handshakes: Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore

In February, students of this Vellore college were notified by the registrar that they had to henceforth “avoid physical contact” with members of the opposite sex “except for handshakes”. This was in response to the “obscene behaviour” that students sitting in pairs around campus displayed, which had been creating an “embarrassing situation” for others. Surprising no one, the notice mentioned that “such obscene behaviour is against our Indian culture and value system”.

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